Communicating with people who are deaf or hard-of-hearing in hospital settings


The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires hospitals to provide effective means of communication for patients, family members, and hospital visitors who are deaf or hard of hearing. Wherever patients, their family members, companions, or members of the public are interacting with hospital staff, the hospital is obligated to provide effective communication.
The Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice, interpreting the ADA, discusses these obligations and offers the following guidelines for complying with the law:

1. The ADA applies to all hospital programs and services. This includes emergency room care, inpatient and outpatient surgery, clinics, educational classes, and cafeteria and gift shop services.
2. The simpler the interaction, the less complicated the required accommodation. For example, exchanging written notes or pointing to items for purchase can be effective communication for brief face-to-face conversations, such as a visitor’s inquiry about a patient’s room number or a gift shop purchase.
3. Written forms or information sheets may be sufficient where there is little call for interactive communication, such as providing billing and insurance information or filling out admission forms and medical history inquiries.
4. Where the communications are more interactive and complicated, such as a patient’s discussion of symptoms with medical personnel, a physician’s presentation of diagnosis and treatment options to patients and family members, or group therapy session, it may be necessary to provide a qualified sign language interpreter or other interpreter, such as an oral interpreter, a cued-speech interpreter (essentially an oral interpreter using supplemental hand codes or cues), or computer-assisted real time transcription (CART).

Check back for examples of situations in hospital settings where an interpreter may be required.


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